Remembering World Series comebacks by the Royals and Mets
The World Series resumes on Friday night in New York, and while the Mets are down 2–0 against the Royals, not all hope is lost. Historically speaking, 10 teams have come back from 2-0 deficits out of the 48 that have fallen into such a hole in a best-of-seven World Series, a rate of 21%. That's not great, but it's not nothing.
As it turns out, the last time either of these two franchises won—1985 for the Royals, '86 for the Mets—they had to take such routes, and along the way, they provided some of the most memorable and controversial moments in the history of the Fall Classic. Here’s a look back.
1985: Royals over Cardinals
For Kansas City to even reach the "Show-Me Showdown" featuring Missouri's two teams, it not only had to beat the Blue Jays (sound familiar?) in the ALCS, it had to rally from a 3–1 deficit. Meanwhile, the Cardinals made comparatively short work of the Dodgers thanks to ninth-inning homers off Los Angeles closer Tom Niedenfuer by Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark in Games 5 and 6, respectively.
St. Louis kept rolling in the World Series, taking the first two games at Kauffman Stadium. In Game 1, starter John Tudor ( 6 2/3 IP, seven hits, one run) and closer Todd Worrell (2 1/3 IP, one hit, no runs) combined to shut down the Royals, 3–1. In Game 2, the Cardinals scored four runs in the ninth off tiring Kansas City starter Charlie Liebrandt to win, 4–2.
After the series moved to St. Louis, the Royals took Game 3, 6–1, behind the six-hit complete game of 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen, who had won 20 games during the regular season and would take home the first of two AL Cy Young awards later that year. Saberhagen was backed by former Cardinal Lonnie Smith, who hit a two-run double in the fourth inning; slick-fielding second baseman Frank White, whose two-run homer in the fifth chased 21-game winner Joaquin Andujar; and future Hall of Famer George Brett, who reached base five times via two singles and three walks.
St. Louis rebounded the next day for a 3–0 win that put Kansas City in another 3–1 series hole. Tito Landrum and Willie McGee homered off Royals starter Bud Black, and Tudor twirled a five-hit shutout. That put the Cardinals just one win away from their second championship in a four-season span under manager Whitey Herzog.
They never got it. The Royals piled up five runs in the first two innings of Game 4, with Willie Wilson's two-run triple (one of his series-high 11 hits) the coup de grâce that sent St. Louis starter Bob Forsch to the showers. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Danny Jackson went the distance, allowing just five hits in a 5–1 victory. Back in Kansas City for Game 6, the game remained scoreless through seven innings as Liebrandt and Danny Cox matched zeroes. In the top of the eighth, the Cardinals sandwiched two singles around a walk; pinch-hitter Brian Harper drove in the game's first run off Liebrandt, who for the second time in as many Series starts had been left in too long while closer Dan Quisenberry waited in the bullpen.
That slender lead held until the ninth inning. The Cardinals were three outs away from popping champagne when pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off with a slow chopper to the right side of the infield. The result was one of the most infamous blown calls ever, by first base umpire Don Denkinger:
Despite the protestations of everyone wearing red, the call stood. Worrell proceeded to surrender a single to Steve Balboni. Jim Sundberg bunted into a forceout at third base, but a passed ball sent Onix Concepcion (who had pinch-run for Balboni) to third and Sundberg to second. Heavy-hitting Hal McRae was then intentionally walked to set up another force play, but pinch-hitter Dane Iorg's bloop single to rightfield brought home both runs, despite a strong throw from Andy Van Slyke, for a 2–1 walk-off win that tied the Series.
In Game 7, Herzog opted to start Tudor, who had held the Royals to one run over 15 2/3 innings to that point, on three days' rest rather than the unpredictable Andujar, who had been roughed up in Game 3, on four. The move backfired, as Tudor surrendered a total of five runs in the second and third innings. Two came via a homer by Darryl Motley, one when Tudor walked Sundberg with the bases loaded (his third walk allowed that inning) and the last two when Balboni greeted reliever Bill Campbell with a single. The game was all over but the shouting, almost literally; after Jeff Lahti surrendered four more runs in the fifth, Herzog put Andujar into the game, and all hell broke loose:
Andujar surrendered an RBI single, then began arguing with Denkinger (who was behind the plate) over balls and strikes, which led to Herzog's ejection. After Denkinger called another ball, Andjuar charged the umpire and had to be restrained by multiple teammates. Upon being ejected, he destroyed a clubhouse toilet with a bat. The Royals cruised to victory, 11–0, behind series MVP Saberhagen's five-hit shutout, four hits from Brett and three hits and three RBIs from Motley.
1986: Mets over Red Sox
To reach the World Series—the first time since 1973 for the Mets, '75 for the Red Sox—both teams had to survive unforgettable battles in their respective LCS matchups. New York won Game 3 against Houston on a walk-off home run, Game 5 on a 12th-inning single and Game 6 by erasing a three-run–ninth-inning deficit and going ahead for good in the 16th. Boston, meanwhile, was down three runs heading to the ninth inning of Game 5 against the Angels before a pair of two-run homers, by Don Baylor and Dave Henderson—the latter coming with two outs and two strikes—gave them new life. The Red Sox won that game and cruised to a pair of wins back at Fenway Park to reach the World Series, where they hoped to win the franchise's first title in 68 years.
The Fall Classic opened at Shea Stadium, and Boston took the first game, 1–0, with Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi combining on a four-hitter. The only run came across in the seventh inning when New York second baseman Tim Teufel had a ground ball go through his legs. The Sox then routed the Mets, 9–3, in Game 2, with Henderson and Dwight Evans both homering off Dwight Gooden.
New York evened the Series after it shifted to Fenway Park. Lenny Dykstra started Game 3 with a homer off Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, and the next three Mets hitters (Wally Backman, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter) followed with hits of their own in what became a four-run first inning. Boyd stuck around to throw seven innings, but Dykstra's four hits and Carter's three RBIs led New York to a 7–1 victory. In Game 4, Carter homered twice and Dykstra once in a 6–2 win, as Ron Darling hurled seven shutout innings.
In Game 5, Hurst won for the second time in the Series and Boston dealt Gooden his second defeat. Triples by Rice and Henderson, plus an RBI double by the latter, were the big blows off the Doctor. Hurst scattered 10 hits but held the Mets to 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position en route to a 4–2 win.
Back at Shea for Game 6, the Red Sox collected five hits over the first two innings, scoring a run in each frame, but the Mets tied the score in the fifth. A throwing error by third baseman Ray Knight led to the Red Sox scratching out a run in the seventh against reliever Roger McDowell, but leftfielder Mookie Wilson cut down Jim Rice at the plate to end the inning, keeping the score 3–2. New York equalized again in the eighth via a Carter sacrifice fly off Schiraldi but couldn't cash in on a two-on, no-out situation in the ninth, sending the game to extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, Henderson hit a solo homer off Rick Aguilera to put Boston in front, and a Boggs double and a Marty Barrett single added an insurance run for a 5–3 lead. The Red Sox were three outs away from their first world championship since 1918. Manager John McNamara sent Schiraldi, who had labored through the eighth and ninth by working around five base runners, back out for the 10th. He retired the first two batters, Backman and Hernandez, on fly balls but gave up singles to Carter, pinch-hitter Kevin Mitchell and Knight, the last of them on an 0–2 count. Knight's hit scored Carter, trimming Boston's lead to 5–4.
Finally, McNamara gave Schiraldi the hook in favor of Bob Stanley. With Wilson at the plate, Stanley again got his team within one strike of victory ... only to throw a wild pitch that brought home Mitchell and advanced Knight into scoring position. Then, in one of the most (in)famous plays in baseball history, Wilson hit a grounder that somehow went through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner, allowing Knight to dance home deliriously with the winning run.
As dramatic as that victory was for the Mets, that merely set up Game 7, which was pushed back by a day due to rain. The delay allowed Hurst, who had prematurely been announced as the World Series MVP before the Mets' miraculous Game 6 rally, to start opposite Darling. The Red Sox struck first, with back-to-back solo home runs by Evans and Gedman that opened the second inning helping them to a 3–0 lead that they carried into the bottom of the sixth.
Once there, the Mets loaded the bases on a single by pinch-hitter Lee Mazzilli, another single by Wilson and a walk by Teufel. Hernandez then singled to left to drive in two runs. One pitch later, New York drew even when Evans was unable to make a diving catch on Carter's bloop to right, allowing Wally Backman (running for Teufel) to score.
That was Hurst's last inning. Knight greeted Schiraldi with a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh, and the Mets turned two singles, a wild pitch and two walks (one intentional) into two more runs for a 6–3 lead. Boston roared back in its next turn, scoring two on a double by Evans with nobody out, but Orosco came out of the bullpen to strand him there, Darryl Strawberry hit a majestic home run to open the bottom of the eighth, and New York tacked on an extra run via an Orosco single—the last RBI by a relief pitcher in World Series history. Ahead 8–5, Orosco returned to the mound for the ninth and set down the Red Sox in order, striking out Barrett to clinch the championship.
Since those 1985 and '86 triumphs, just one other team has come back from a 2–0 deficit to win the World Series. Like the Royals and Mets, the 1996 Yankees also had to do it after losing the first two games at home; those are still just the only three teams to pull that off. Here's the full list of teams to do what the 2015 Mets are now attempting (you can read the details here):
1955: Dodgers over Yankees in seven
1956: Yankees over Dodgers in seven
1958: Yankees* over Braves in seven
1965: Dodgers over Twins in seven
1971: Pirates over Orioles in seven
1978: Yankees over Dodgers in six
1981: Dodgers over Yankees in six
1996: Yankees over Braves in six
*also trailed 3–1